Every Friday, we choose an alum who has been making headlines—for better or for worse.
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Elaine Griffin ’86: 'every
reality show has a villain'

“Diva I am,” Elaine Griffin ’86 acknowledges. She'll own that one. “But hate-mail-inspiring?”

An interior designer with her own business and a do-it-yourself book, Griffin has been featured in New York magazine, Elle Decor, and the Today Show. But those star turns didn’t necessarily prepare the self-described “alpha girl” for the scrutiny she’d face as a contestant on American Dream Builders, NBC's new reality show.

“Elaine, as site manager you’ve really done a terrible job,” host Nate Berkus told Griffin at the end of the April 6 episode, during which she had called one of her teammates “an idiot.”

“The design is beautiful,” Berkus continued, but “the dynamic among all of you is becoming hard to watch. It just leaves me wondering, does the end justify the means?”

Apparently it does, for now, because the judges eliminated a less-alpha-girl contestant and allowed Griffin to stay. The move prompted an “Elaine must go” outcry on social media, with viewers calling her a bully, rude, and worse. Comparisons abounded to Omarosa, a reality-show contestant whom TV Guide once named one of the “nastiest villains of all time” (and who, perhaps coincidentally, is black and female like Griffin).

“After the judges gave me that tongue-lashing, I realized there was a difference between aggressiveness and assertiveness,” Griffin says in a phone interview. “And I realized that I needed to tone down the aggressiveness without losing the assertiveness.”

Unlike Omarosa, who “was calculatingly mean for the cameras, I was just trying to get the job done under pressure,” Griffin says. “We were sleep-deprived, amid intense competition. You don’t want to be the person who makes mistakes and gets sent home. If you put 12 piranhas together in a tank, the strongest is going to survive.”

American Dream Builders, she says, “is two things. It’s a design show and it’s a reality competition. It is not a documentary. At the end of the day, every reality show has a villain. Don’t we all know that by now?”


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

Filed under Elaine Griffin, design, reality TV
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